The LG G6 fits in your hand. That’s a lot to say for a flagship smartphone nowadays, and I’m thrilled LG is championing one-handed use. The question is whether that will be enough to break through, especially with the rise of powerful contenders like the Google Pixel XL $769.99 at Verizon Wireless. “Our hands haven’t changed over time, and the role of a smartphone to fit comfortably in your hand hasn’t changed, either,” LG product manager Ian Cheng said. Given the glut of two-handed behemoths on the market, I think the G6 stands a fighting chance.
Note that this is not a full review of the LG G6. It’s a preview based on our experience with the phone at Mobile World Congress. LG hasn’t revealed availability or pricing, other than to say it will be “competitive.” Check back for a rull review once the phone is out.
Design and Display
The G6 is, as has been rumored, an unusually long, narrow phone, with slim bezels and a 2:1 (LG says 18:9) screen aspect ratio. It’s made of metal and glass, with a pleasantly grippy back that won’t easily slip out of your hand. There’s a standard headphone jack on top (the G6 doesn’t feature dual speakers or quad DACs like the LG V20 $549.99 at Amazon), a USB-C port on the bottom, and LG’s signature power button/fingerprint scanner on the back.
I’ve been agitating for narrower phones for years. A few years ago, LG released a study saying that phones should be no more than 2.8 inches wide to be usable with one hand, and then went ahead and broke that rule with the G3 and G4, which I found too wide to comfortably use without both hands. That’s why I like the Samsung Galaxy S7 $669.99 at T-Mobile so much, because at 2.74 inches, it’s the narrowest high-powered Android phone.
The G6 measures 5.86 by 2.83 by 0.31 inches (HWD). That’s slightly wider than the Galaxy S7 and the Apple iPhone 7 $649.99 at T-Mobile (2.64 inches). But those are smaller screen phones, and the idea here is that the G6 packs a big 5.7-inch screen into a narrow body. The G6 is narrower than the 2.86-inch Galaxy S7 Edge, the 2.98-inch Google Pixel XL, and the 3.07-inch iPhone 7 Plus.
The tall, narrow screen is a touch disorienting at first, but you get used to it. I find the phone comfortable—really comfortable—and that makes a huge difference for a device you’re going to be carrying around and fiddling with all day. It’s noticeably more comfortable to hold than my current daily driver, the Moto Z $493.45 at Amazon, and I really appreciate the grippy back.
This is the LG’s first waterproof flagship phone, with an IP68 rating. The company is aiming at mil-spec ruggedness, too, LG PR director Frank Lee said. The phone’s rounded corners are said to spread shock when it’s dropped, allowing it to survive seven out of ten of LG’s drop tests without a crack, while a competing phone (which we’re guessing is the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge $789.99 at T-Mobile) cracked every time.
As the phone is waterproof, the battery is sealed in. LG has tested its batteries beyond the international spec, including pounding a nail into a charged battery to make sure it doesn’t explode. The separator between the battery’s anode and cathode, which prevents combustion, is almost twice the thickness of the one in the recalled Galaxy Note 7. Thanks to smart charging technology, the battery is said to maintain its charging capacity for over two years. It also supports wireless charging.
The phone’s 2,880-by-1,440 LCD is very sharp at 565 pixels per inch, and it has unusually rich colors thanks to its support for HDR (both Dolby HDR and HDR10). When you see HDR and non-HDR content side by side, the HDR really jumps out. But the screen could use a bit more brightness. Like the LG G5, it has an “always on” mode that keeps the clock visible when the screen is off, but it’s dimmer than Samsung’s.
OS and Performance
The G6 runs Android 7.0 Nougat on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor, rather than the newer Snapdragon 835. Cisco Cheng, marketing director for Qualcomm, explained that, “At the time LG was conceptualizing this device, the 821 was available, and the 835 was not.” The US model of the phone will have 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, as well as a microSD card slot.
Qualcomm worked with LG to add HDR and seamless camera transitions for zooming (more on that in the next section), which aren’t typically 821 features, Cheng said. The phone also supports Sprint’s new HPUE technology, which improves LTE signal strength and range.
I snuck a few benchmarks in. The G6 got 1,726 single core, 3,750 multi core on Geekbench 4, and 135,975 on AnTuTu. That’s consistent with the 821-powered Google Pixel and the 820-powered V20, which score in the 140,000-range on AnTuTu. The G6’s Geekbench scores are a little higher on the single core and lower on the multi core than we’d expect, but this is a pre-production unit, so you can’t take these benchmarks as completely accurate. Rather, you can look at them as showing the G6 won’t have much faster performance than those existing flagships.
The tall, narrow screen also means that built-in apps have been altered, and there may be some compatibility issues with third-party software. The dialer, messaging app, address book, music player, weather, and e-mail apps have all been changed to impart more information—usually larger graphics and pictures—toward the top of the screen. The camera also gets a bunch of new modes where the top half of the screen is a viewfinder, and the bottom half shows an image preview or lets you coordinate with another image. As the screen can now be divided into two square halves, I see some real Instagram potential here.
I played Need for Speed: No Limits, and it scaled to the edges of the screen, giving me an option for playing with black bars in a default 16:9 mode instead. That’s what’s going to happen for most un-optimized apps. Netflix has already been optimized, LG said.
Overall, LG’s software skin is—as always has been—quite far from stock Android. Colors, icons, and much of the launcher are different, and LG has stuck with offering its own gallery and music apps on top of Google’s options.
The G6 has two 13-megapixel cameras on the back and a wide-angle, 5-megapixel selfie camera on the front. I took some shots and compared them with a Google Pixel. Indoors, the Pixel had better white balance and better color reproduction, especially in low light. For a shot taken through a window of an exterior scene, the G6 came out with better sharpness and detail. The Pixel takes higher-resolution selfies with more detail, but sometimes it’s a little too much detail, and my skin looks better with the G6’s slightly smoothed default effect.
The G6 also has dual 13-megapixel rear cameras, which the Pixel doesn’t. LG describes them as 71-degree and 125-degree cameras, one of which is wide angle. But you can also think of them as 1x and 2x zoom cameras, like on the iPhone 7 Plus$769.99 at T-Mobile. The phone does a smooth zoom between the two cameras, like the iPhone does. And as with the iPhone, the quality is striking—unlike on other phones, you don’t lose detail when you “zoom in.” The price is that there’s significant fish-eye distortion in the wide-angle or “1x” camera, with straight lines bending to curves at the edge of the frame. The phone also records 4K video with both rear cameras.
The wide-angle selfie camera is 100 degrees, so it’s not quite as wide as the 120-degree one on the LG V20. It simulates dual cameras by offering narrow-view and wide-view modes.
To some extent, the LG G6 has to be held to be believed. Its primary selling point is that it fits a 5.7-inch screen into a 2.86-inch-wide body, which is considerably narrower than the HTC U Ultra, Google Pixel XL, or the iPhone 7 Plus. It’s about the same width as the Galaxy S7 Edge, but as the screen doesn’t go all the way down to the edge, it’s probably more durable.
While I was momentarily excited for LG’s modular phone gimmick with the G5 last year, it didn’t develop the ecosystem necessary to make the feature worthwhile. The G6’s body design shifts to proven crowd-pleasers like waterproofing and wireless charging. The losers here will be the few, proud, removable-battery stalwarts, who now really have no major phone makers on their side.
The G6 looks like a great solution for people who focus on one-handed use. But, of course, it lives in the spectre of the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S8, which may be announced on March 29. If Samsung matches LG’s narrow, big-screen approach and throws in a Snapdragon 835 with gigabit LTE speeds, it’ll be a lot harder to recommend the G6 than it is today.